THE closure of two mission associations which have supported the
Anglican Church in South-East Asia for more than 100 years is not a
sign of failure, but a natural outcome of their success, the Bishop
of West Malaysia's UK Commissary has said.
The Singapore Diocesan Association, now the Singapore and West
Malaysia Diocesan Association (SWMDA), was established in 1909 to
support, with prayer and money, the missionaries sent out by SPG.
The Borneo Mission Association (BMA) was formed three years later,
and was actively involved in sending missionaries to the
In more recent years, both organisations have played more of a
supportive part, providing fellowship for former missionaries and
British clergy who have worked in South-East Asia, and at the same
time retaining its focus on prayer and financial support to the
But, while the four dioceses of Kuching and Sabah, in northern
Borneo, together with Singapore and West Malaysia - which came
together as the province of South-East Asia in 1999 - are still
actively involved in mission, evangelism, and church-planting, it
is now being carried out largely by the indigenous Church.
And so, with ageing memberships and declining active
involvement, the two associations will formally close at a
celebration in London on 13 June. The remaining funds will be given
as grants to the dioceses, and a new, loose fellowship will be
formed to enable those interested in the work of the Church in
South-East Asia to continue to hear and pray about its work.
The first Anglican presence on Borneo began in 1848, when the
newly ordained Thomas McDougall, a Fellow of the Royal College of
Surgeons, arrived in Kuching at the request of the Rajah of Sarawak
to begin an Anglican mission. He was consecrated as the Bishop of
Sarawak eight years later.
By the time he returned to England, in 1867, to become Bishop of
Ely and then Winchester, the work he had begun in Borneo was
already bearing fruit. A succession of missionary bishops followed,
until the consecration, in 1968, of the first indigenous Bishop of
Kuching, the Rt Revd Basil Temenggong.
And, just last month, the Rt Revd Melter Jiki Bin Tais became
the first native Kadazan to be ordained Bishop of Sabah, in
It was a similar story in Singapore and West Malaysia, where a
succession of missionary bishops from England, beginning with
George Hose in 1881, culminated in the appointment of the Rt Revd
Joshua Chiu Ban It as its first indigenous bishop in 1966. The
diocese of West Malaysia was split off in 1970.
The Rt Revd John Wilson, who was Bishop of Singapore during the
Second World War, was held prisoner and tortured by the Japanese.
After the war, he caused a sensation when he baptised and gave
communion to four Japanese war criminals who had been sentenced to
death in Changi Prison - including his torturer.
The Anglican mission agency Us. (USPG) continues to support the
Church in South-East Asia. But its mission partners now are to be
found supporting the local church rather than planting new
Currently, Jonathan and Beth Tearne, a worship leader and a
dance and children's teacher, from Peckham, are in a year-long
placement with the diocese of Kuching. "During our time, we have
been helping at Sunday school and in the church's kindergarten,
which has been a lot of fun," they said in an update on the Us.
"We have facilitated confirmation classes, taken part in
numerous youth events, and shared at small group gatherings and at
prayer and praise evenings. We found ourselves arranging music,
choreographing dance, and even performing in a Christmas Eve
musical that ended up on TV."
The province has now gone beyond planting new churches, and is
actively planting six new dioceses.
Initially, the new outposts in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia,
Vietnam, Laos, and Nepal are being referred to as "mission
deaneries": different dioceses will take responsibility for
building up the church in each area until they can function as
"These missions are very much local-led, and the initiatives are
in partnership with local Christians, and based on appeals from
local Christians in those places," Prebendary Michael Sheard, who
serves as Commissary to the Bishop of West Malaysia in the UK,
"The whole initiative for Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia is the
dynamism of the Church in South East Asia, and particularly of a
number of mission-minded individuals who, in a sense, have taken on
the torch in the past 30 or 40 years.
"When I first went out to Malaysia in the late 1980s, the
churches there were relatively small; but now they are dynamic and
confident. They welcome encouragement and support from like-minded
Christians in other parts of the world; but they are by no means
dependent on it.
"The diocese of Kuching has increased its size six-fold in the
past 30 years; and West Malaysia has increased by similar leaps and
bounds - and it is not just simply the Anglican Church, but all
Christians in those places, in spite of, not outright persecution,
but of some quite sustained opposition in some quarters of
The Primate of the Anglican Church in Southern Asia, the Most
Revd Datuk Bolly Lapok, will join the other bishops of the
province: the Rt Revd Moon Hing, of West Malaysia; the Rt Revd
Melter Tais, of Sabah; and the Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, of
Singapore, at the special service to mark the closure of the BMA
and SWMDA in St John's, Waterloo, London, on 13 June.